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Harry Dunn

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:17 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 7:17 pm, 21st October 2019

I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement.

First and foremost, our hearts go out to the family and friends of Harry Dunn, especially to his parents, Charlotte and Tim, and their partners, Bruce and Tracey. As the mother of a 20-year-old boy myself, I can only imagine the devastation they feel at Harry’s loss. But in their case, that loss is compounded by the complete lack of justice for their son, the complete lack of respect they were shown in their meetings not only with Donald Trump but, I am afraid, with the Foreign Secretary—with the family describing one meeting as a photo opportunity, and the meeting with the President as an attempted ambush—and, finally, by the complete lack of answers that they have had to even the most basic questions about why their son’s case was handled in the way it was and why Mrs Sacoolas has received the treatment that she has.

The Foreign Secretary’s statement today is welcome, in so far as it is a first attempt by the Government to set out a chain of events before Parliament, but it still leaves so many questions unanswered and so many facts unestablished. In the time I have today, I would like to work through those questions with the Foreign Secretary in chronological order.

Let me start by pressing the Foreign Secretary on the issue of immunity. He can correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that spouses and dependants enjoy diplomatic immunity by virtue of the protection enjoyed by the employee. But if, as he has just said, it was agreed between the UK and the US with respect to Croughton that the diplomatic immunity of employees was waived, can he explain the legal basis by which it still applies to spouses? He has talked today about it being an “exchange of notes”. Was it an exchange of notes or was it a memorandum of understanding, and could he please explain the difference? Why is there this anomaly? Was it done deliberately, and if so, what is the justification for that?

A second, related question is whether, if the United States has agreed to waive the full diplomatic immunity of Croughton employees under the Vienna convention, those employees are still entitled to the limited immunity provided under the Visiting Forces Act 1952. If so, surely the legal position should be that the spouse is entitled only to the same protection as the employee. In that case, based on Crown Prosecution Service guidance and previous precedent, the immunity would have applied only if Mrs Sacoolas had been driving from RAF Croughton to her home address, which is an impossibility given that her home address was RAF Croughton. The Foreign Secretary has been talking particularly about the Croughton annexe. Is that the same as RAF Croughton, does it apply to RAF Croughton as a whole, or is it a different area?

Finally on the question of immunity, if the protection enjoyed by spouses of Croughton employees is so clear-cut, why did it take the UK embassy three days to assert it in respect of Mrs Sacoolas? If she and other Croughton spouses do, as the Foreign Secretary said, enjoy full diplomatic immunity under the Vienna convention, why was Mrs Sacoolas’s name never placed on the diplomatic list? When the Foreign Secretary states that the US embassy notified us that the spouse of a member of RAF Croughton was involved in an accident, who is “us”? Is it the police, the Foreign Secretary and his private office, or some other part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

Moving on to the aftermath of this tragedy, will the Foreign Secretary agree, in the interests of transparency, to publish all correspondence and records of all other communications and meetings between his Department, Northamptonshire police and the CPS, and between his Department and US officials, about the handling of this case subsequent to 27 August? It is particularly important to look in detail at what happened between 30 August, when the US asserted diplomatic immunity, and 15 September, when Mrs Sacoolas left, because, as I understand it, the FCO was told that she would leave the country imminently unless the UK raised strong objections. What strong objections did the UK raise, at what level, and by whom? Were assurances requested that she would not leave the country until the issue of immunity had been clarified, particularly given the memo of understanding—or the exchange of documents—as this seems to be extremely murky? What liaison was there between the FCO and Northants police prior to Mrs Sacoolas leaving, and did either the police or the FCO know that she would be leaving before she did so?

All these questions need to be answered. Did Mrs Sacoolas leave on a scheduled flight? Did she leave from Mildenhall? Had the ports been alerted pending resolution of her status? Will the Foreign Secretary explain why his Department asked Northamptonshire police to delay informing Harry Dunn’s family of the departure of Mrs Sacoolas for, to quote him, “a day or two”? Why did they not have the right to be told immediately? What possible legal, let alone ethical, basis was there for the Foreign Secretary to be interfering in operational police matters? Surely this family had the right to be informed straight away. Why, indeed, did it then take the Northamptonshire police 10 days to tell the family?

Given that the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that the supposed diplomatic immunity status granted to Mrs Sacoolas has ceased to apply since her return to the United States, while I am not asking him to intrude on the independent decisions of prosecuting authorities, can he say whether he has he been advised on whether there are any barriers to the CPS commencing extradition proceedings to return Mrs Sacoolas to the UK?

As the Foreign Secretary will know, tomorrow Harry Dunn’s family are due to meet the chief constable of Northamptonshire police. As I mentioned earlier, this brave family have already had one disappointing meeting in his office—and another in the Oval Office. In fact, may I ask a question in relation to that? Was the Foreign Office aware that the White House had summoned the family to the White House, let alone that the President was intending to ambush them with a meeting with Mrs Sacoolas? If so, did the Foreign Office think it appropriate not to give this vulnerable family some assistance? They have many legitimate questions, and they are not getting answers. Unfortunately, they have been led to believe that they will not get any answers from the chief constable of Northamptonshire tomorrow either, as it is his intention merely to offer them his personal condolences. That is not good enough. The time for condolences and sympathy is over. What Harry’s family need now is answers, the truth and some justice.